[box]RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life. [/box]
Can you define indignation or anger? I found a study of definitions to be enlightening. According to Webster’s (New World College Dictionay, Fourth Edition), I found this:
Anger – the feeling of displeasure, pain, or trouble
Indignation – anger or scorn as a reaction to injustice, ingratitude, or meaness; righteous anger
We might as well move on to scorn, which in summary is:
Scorn – contempt, or rejecting something as wrong or disgraceful
And while we are at it a dictionary definition of righteous might help:
Righteous – acting in a just or upright manner, doing what is right
I think it is safe to say that we all “feel angry.” It is unavoidable in this present world. People fail us. We fail ourselves. It is often a source of hardship to us. We are going to feel displeased with unpleasant, undesirable treatment or outcomes. Our own anger can sometimes make us angry, because we associate it so strongly with what is wrong with life. There are so many things to evoke this feeling that we think of as horrible.
I looked at the explanations of translations of the word “anger” in the Bible (using Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Anger is very closely linked to the idea of the strongest negative passion possible. Grief is nearly a synonym. The original Biblical word usage seems to fall into two categories: emotion and action. There is ongoing emotion and there are outbursts (wrath being an extension anger resulting in action), which don’t always indicate lack of control, but can mean it is truly time for action because of ongoing wrong.
The actual pairing of the words “righteous indignation” are not in any of the 8 translations that I searched using blueletterbible.org. “Righteous anger” showed up once in the New Living Testament version, but then it was specifically referring to God. I also did a search for the phrase “godly anger” and came up empty. This doesn’t suggest that we cannot have feelings about not liking that which is judged wrong. It rather suggests to me that we are in no way encouraged to take on God’s role in being angry. Let Him do the heavy lifting.
A lot of people use the terms mentioned in the above paragraph with the best of intentions and trying to convey that there is right and wrong. The way I see it, for us to add the “other” words in front of anger invites misunderstanding, fosters self-righteousness, and risks becoming meaningless rhetoric from overuse. If we do feel anger, most of us would agree we need to check ourselves before acting on it. Then, it should always be with humility and self-control, which can become habit by the grace of God’s work on us. We do not need to be slaves to our emotions, but we also do not need to live in fear of them. They become simply signals to evaluate our interactions and choices.
There is a longing in us for what is good. This is coupled with the yearning to be valued and treated well by others. If we think wrong has been done, we should not have any pleasure in discovering it. We should also not be surprised or disappointed when people who have not chosen to follow God, um, don’t follow Him. Why get angry at someone for being true to their choices? This is obviously easier if there is no direct impact personally from someone else’s decisions, but we also know that that is the reality of the world we live in.
Most of the examples of God’s anger or anger expressed by mature Christians from the early church are anger at the truth being willfully obscured or blocked. This is the most important thing. We all struggle through life. We are all mistreated and taken advantage of to some degree. But those of us who have real hope beyond this present world learn to see it in perspective. Yes, speak up for and take action as is wise in regards to what deserves attention, but there is nothing particularly spiritual or righteous about going around being angry at a world that always has been filled with sin.